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Longtime Rio Grande track coach Prentis Jones dies

Prentis Jones was Rio Grande High’s track and field and cross country coach for nearly four decades. (Journal File)

A beloved coaching icon in the South Valley has died.

Prentis Jones, a staple at Rio Grande High School going back to the mid-1970s and the senior-most prep track and field head coach in the metro area, passed away Tuesday.

He was 75.

Jones died of COVID-19 related issues, Ravens assistant coach Joann Callahan said. He had been hospitalized since last Friday, when he suffered a heart attack, then was diagnosed with COVID after being admitted, she said.

“He was my best friend, he was my inspiration, he was such a Godly, wise man,” said Callahan, who also ran for Jones at Rio Grande and has been an assistant girls track coach for the Ravens since 1991. “And his thoughts were always about the kids, all the time.”

Jones, once a linebacker for the University of New Mexico, coached for roughly half a century. He started his career in 1972 at Gallup as an assistant football coach. Several years later, he arrived at Rio Grande, where he also was an assistant football coach for a handful of seasons.

Ravens athletic director Pete Pino said Jones had been the school’s head cross country coach and head girls track and field coach for nearly 40 years.

“There is no better person than Prentis Jones that I have known,” Pino said.

His loss, friends and peers said, would be felt deeply in the tight-knit Rio Grande community.

“Coach Jones, he had a heart of gold,” said longtime Ravens boys track coach Mark Garcia. “He’d give you the shirt off (his) back if you needed it. He was a good guy. He was always there when you needed him.”

Rey Apodaca was Jones’ assistant cross country coach the last seven years. He, like Callahan, once competed for the Ravens with Jones as his head coach.

“His heart was in the South Valley. He loved the kids at Rio Grande,” Apodaca said. “He would buy shoes for the kids if they couldn’t afford them. He was everything you could imagine in a human being.”

The most famous of Jones’ athletes was Shelia Burrell, a 1990 Rio Grande graduate who would later become a two-time Olympic athlete in the heptathlon.

“The loss of coach Jones … if I sat down and told a story about my life, he was such a part of my story,” Burrell said Wednesday from San Diego, where she is the head cross country and track and field coach at San Diego State.

“I don’t even know how to explain it; he’s the most consistent man I’ve ever met,” Burrell said. “Funny how when you look back, you’re going, you just love coach Jones. … He didn’t talk a lot, but you felt a lot from him.”

Similar praise was heaped upon Jones from outside Rio Grande.

“He was a warm soul,” said Albuquerque Academy cross country and boys track coach Adam Kedge, who knew Jones close to 30 years, going back to when Kedge coached track at Eldorado. “He would always greet you with a smile or a hug or a handshake, and he cared about you as a person and as a coach. And he just adored his kids.”

Memorial services for Jones were yet to be announced. Callahan said eventually, coaches at Rio Grande would hold a service for him on the campus, perhaps a drive-through tribute near the track. Callahan said Jones once joked that his ashes should be spread at the facility.

“He lived and breathed track for as long as I’ve known him,” Callahan said.

“He was one of the founding fathers of Albuquerque track and field,” added Kedge.

The twice-married Jones leaves behind three children – Lenell Walton, Francine Jones and Quentin Jones.

“He was loved by everybody,” Burrell said. “(When I was there), I didn’t know that Rio Grande wasn’t supposed to be good. Running for coach Jones, he didn’t care. He just coached. He coached from a passion of working with kids.”

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